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How Does a Poem Mean?
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How Does a Poem Mean?

4.24 of 5 stars 4.24  ·  rating details  ·  95 ratings  ·  14 reviews
Poetry textbook
Paperback, 408 pages
Published January 1st 1975 by Houghton Mifflin (first published 1959)
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I have always struggled to quantify and explain what I like and don't like in a poem. This brilliant book used some of my favorite poems to reveal new layers of meaningfulness and to explain how poetry does what it does. I'll admit to skipping many of the poems so I could focus on his insights about patterns but I did take embarrassingly copious notes...for my own edification? For my students? I don't know. I just felt compelled to remember all the insight I gained from this book, particularly h ...more
I found this book in my parents' basement when I was in about 8th grade. It must have been a textbook for a class my mother took in college, because her bubbly cursive is all over it. The critical discussions about the poetry are pretty flimsy at best, but this is a marvelous collection of works and is almost entirely responsible for kick-starting my love of poetry. The copy, now doubly dog-eared, lives with me in Brooklyn.
I've always loved poetry but had never delved into its structure or taken a college course on the subject. This book filled in the gaps for me. Written by John Ciardi, aka "Mr. Poet," this book gave opportunity to see poetry as more than just pretty words. I learned about rhythm and meter and motion and silences and fulcrums and so many other aspects relating to the structure of poetry. I think the author's point was always that poetry is to be experienced, not just read and analyzed. Many times ...more
Has anyone else noticed that this book is filled with examples of excellent poetry that are all, with the exception of a few from Dickinson, written by men, while most of the examples of poor poetry are written by women? And some of the examples of excellence are truly misogynistic pieces on the cruelty and deceptive beauty of women? Am I alone here? I know it was published in 1959, but really? REALLY?!

The guy clearly knows his craft, and there are some excellent pieces of guidance in here, but
I found Ciardi refreshing in his explanation of how to understand poetry. I was taking a poetry class under Weiss at Deere-Pierce College in Athens then and liked Ciardi so much that l later read all three volumes of his translation of Dante's Divine Comedy.
Jul 09, 2014 Therese marked it as abandoned
I am so sorry that I couldn't finish this book, but I do not think that I'll ever like poetry. *sighs discontentedly*
Mike Duron
This is one of the first serious (but thoroughly enjoyable) books on poetry I ever read. I was first exposed to it in my late teens and have gone back to it many times throughout the years. Ciardi leaves you feeling like you've just spent time in conversation with a genius who knows poetry inside and out -- which he was, and he did. This is certainly requisite reading for any serious student of poetry.
Mick Natco
It is irrelevant to ask "what does a poem mean".
I've always loved poetry. And have written some.
This book taught me how to read a poem, something I thought I knew how to do.
Boy was I wrong. Every poem I read now is so much more vibrant.
A must read.
So far, so good. Making the case that the form of poetry is as crucial to its understanding as the content, and that they can never be divorced. Only dipping in at the moment, but looking forward to a deeper read soon.
Abigail King
I am always in the middle of five or six books of poetry, but as the process of "finishing" the books is so completely non-linear I don't usually mention them on my currently reading list. Just to say.
This is the first book of poetry criticism that I ever encountered, and it opened up to me the entire realm of inquiry into what (or how) a poem means, how it works and why. Excellent.
Rochelle Jewel  Shapiro
This is an oldie so I'm really glad it's in print. What a joy to curl up with it and be brough further into the delight of poetry.
James M. Madsen, M.D.
A classic treatise on how to read and analyze and appreciate a poem on several levels. Treat yourself!
Mary Louise
One of Ed Ochester's poetry craft book picks, and he's right, it's a honey of a book.
Matt Spencer
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John Anthony Ciardi (June 24, 1916 – March 30, 1986) was an American poet, translator, editor, writer and etymologist.
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“The fact that a good poem will never wholly submit to explanation is not its deficiency but its very life. One lives every day what he cannot define. It is feeling that is first. What one cannot help but sense in good poetry is a sense of the whole language stirring toward richer possibilities than one could have foreseen.” 3 likes
“Good writing tends to present evidence rather than judgments. When the evidence is well presented, the reader’s judgments will agree with those implicit in the writing. But nothing is more disastrous to the communication between writer and reader than a series of implicit judgments with which the reader cannot agree or which he finds to be simply silly or for which he is given no evidence he can respect.” 2 likes
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